May 12, 2024
[Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, is May 9.
It may be observed on Sunday the 12th.
Make sure you use at least one of the ascension stories on Sunday!]
Luke 24.44-53 — Luke’s shorter ascension story.
Ephesians 1. 15-23 — For wisdom, “that the eyes of your heart be enlightened.” God raised Christ and seated Christ n power over all things.
Psalm 47 — Praise God for ruling over all Creation. God has “gone up with a shout.”
Acts 1.1-11 — The ascension of Christ.
7th Sunday of Easter
Acts 1.15-17, 21-26 — The election of Matthias
Psalm 1 — Blessed are those…tree planted by streams of water
1 John 5.9-13 — Believe the testimony of eternal life
John 17.6-19 — “I have given them your Word… I’m not in the world, but they are…Not one was lost…protect them from the evil one…they don’t belong to the world …sanctify them”
This is the end of Volume 1 of Luke’s gospel, Acts being volume 2. Here’s a shorter version of the story that’s repeated in Acts 1. In this version it’s late on the day of the resurrection. In Acts it’s 40 days later. Notice how Luke doesn’t mind telling two contradictory versions. They’re stories, not history.
Jesus says scripture says the Messiah is to die and be raised. Well, Luke says it. Most scholars think Jesus never said that. But no one, Christian or Jewish, has ever been able to find scriptures that actually say that. It’s only through our Christian lens that we can overlay Jesus’ story onto Hebrew scriptures and see how they look similar. Take Isaiah’s servant songs. They’re not really about the Messiah (or even a person at all; they could be about the whole nation of Israel), and they don’t really describe resurrection. It’s not fair to pretend Isaiah had Jesus in mind in those songs. But we can see Jesus in them. The early church saw the resurrection as consonant with the way scripture shows us God, and their way of saying that was “scripture says this.” Let that be good enough.
Jesus probably also didn’t say ”repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” But again it encapsulates the sense of mission of the early church. This is Luke’s version of a Great Commission, like John 20.22-23 and Matthew 28.18-20. This is what the early church believed they were about. The Jesus Seminar translates it: “All peoples will be called on to undergo a change of heart for the forgiveness of sins.” The root of this, the action we need to take, is not so much preaching but forgiving. It’s often assumed that people need to repent to be forgiven, but that’s not what forgiveness is. Forgiveness is the wounded person letting go of the hurt regardless of the hurtful person’s behavior. People will experience a change of heart when they receive forgiveness. We forgive, and that changes them; then they repent.
What a rich vein. Pray your way through this slowly. Here is my paraphrase of the book of Ephesians. See also a couple readings below.
Ephesians wasn’t written by Paul. Maybe his less anal sister. If you’re ever down, just read Ephesians., It’s stuffed with one blessing after another. The writer really cared about her congregation and believed in them.
The prayer in this passage is for wisdom and enlightenment but it doesn’t mean being smart or knowing the right answers. It means the enlightenment of our hearts, the way our soul knows things our minds can’t comprehend. Like what it’s like to be loved. The writer wants you to hope, and to trust in the power of God, the power that raised Christ, power that is greater than any other power.
Here’s the opener of Season Two of Luke’s series Jesus and His People. It begins as so many episodes do, with “Previously, in the Gospel of Luke,” and then does a little recap to bring us up to the present moment. (There’s also a little teaser for the next episode: “You will be baptized by the Holy Spirit not many does from now…” ) “Theophilus” could be a real person, or a symbolic name. It means “God-Lover.” Just like, yes, “Amadeus.”
Jesus appears during 40 days, the Official Biblical Gestational Period. Scripture’s way of saying something holy is unfolding. Then the disciples want to know the old Messianic question: will you finally throw off Roman occupation and set Israel free? As usual Jesus changes the question, as if to say “My kingdom is not of this world.” Then he turns the focus from himself to the disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” A foreshadowing of Pentecost. And of the work following that. The disciples (we) are to be Jesus’ witnesses, both to behold him and to “bear witness,” to show him forth in our living, in an expanding world from there in town in Jerusalem, across the country and even the “enemy country” or Samaria, and out into all the world. Jesus lays out a plan for a community that is radically expansive, not in conquest but in inclusion.
The story of the Ascension, like that of the Transfiguration, is highly symbolic. Treating it as a historical fact that proves a certain point (like that Jesus is divine) is not as fruitful as letting it be a story that invites our wonder. The story offers layers of “meaning” and significance.
We still cling to the ancient worldview that God is “up” (NFL players point to the sky when they score. Why not point to the ground, or their hearts?) Given that geography, for Jesus to ascend implies he’s gone”up” to be with God on the throne—that is, to rule over all Creation. Love is actually sovereign, even if it’s unseen.
For those concerned with the physical body of Jesus after the resurrection, this seems to present a puzzle: now where is Jesus? But he has told them: In you. In Luke 24.48-49 and Acts 1.8 Jesus has charged them to continue his ministry and promised the Spirit (in John 20.22 he has already breathed his spirit into them). So it’s not just a story about Jesus: it’s a story about us. Jesus is the spirit; they (we) are the body. On Pentecost the disciples will discover that gift with amazing power. The Ascension makes way for the community to become the physical body of the risen Christ.
This is also a story about grief and transition: the disciples now have to live without Jesus in physical form. Kind of like the Smothers Brothers’ old “looking up in the air gag,” it evokes some awkwardness and confusion. It reflects a lot of the change, grief and uncertainty in the early church, and in the church these days. Some days it does seem like the church is just standing there in a daze, looking up into the air.
It raises the question of how we live out our faith without the reassurance of Jesus’ physical presence with us. Much as we might wish he were ”here” in that way, we have to learn to accept his presence in a different form.
“This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Hm. Maybe that’s in reference to the scriptures depicting God coming
“in the clouds” Jesus is going to come back through the sky? Or maybe it means he’ll come in a way as unexpected as this? Or maybe it simply means “You really saw him go, didn’t you? When he comes, don’t worry, you’ll see it.”
Call to Worship
Leader: Love has been crucified, but love has risen.
All: Love has ascended over us.
Love reigns supreme over all the world.
Love reigns in our hearts.
God of love, lead us as we worship.
Christ of love, lead us as we live.
Spirit of love, rise up; the world is yours.
Leader: Christ, who was crucified, has been raised from the dead.
All: Christ is risen. Alleluia!
Christ has ascended into heaven and reigns with God over all things.
Christ is the ruler of our lives. Alleluia!
God gives us the Spirit, that we may be the risen Body of Christ.
Christ is alive in us. Alleluia!
Leader: Holy Mystery, beyond, we seek you.
All: Loving Presence, among, we greet you.
Shapeshifter Christ, moving, we praise you.
Transcendent Spirit, filling us, we thank you.
We do not understand you, but we love you.
We do not comprehend, but we worship,
in awe, in joy, and gratitude. Alleluia!
Leader: God of infinite mystery, your love is the heart of the universe.
All: The Beloved lives among us with grace.
Your love is the great power within all things.
The Beloved rules over the universe with tender compassion and mercy.
Christ, your love, has ascended to the throne of all Creation.
There is no power greater, no authority higher, that that of your love.
Your love is your power!
Your love is your might!
Your love is your victory!
The Beloved is our heart, and we are the Body of the Beloved.
Alleluia! Come, Spirit of Love, and reign over us.
Come, beloved, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: We come to this time and place seeking God.
All: So often we are simply in a daze, looking up into the sky.
But you are not in the sky; you are in and among us.
You have transcended one time and place,
and are with us in all times and places.
We open our heart to your presence.
May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened,
that we may know the joy of your love. Amen.
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Loving God, your eternal Christ once dwelt on earth, confined by time and space.
Give us faith to discern in every time and place the presence among us
of the One who is has ascended to fill all things and rule all things,
Jesus Christ the Beloved. Amen.
Eternal God, in mercy you have raised Christ from the dead; in love you have set Christ to rule over all Creation. By your Spirit raise Christ up to rule in our hearts, with your mercy and grace. Amen.
God of love, may the law of your Love reign over us. May the power of your Word have authority for us. May your throne be not only in the heart of the world but in the word of our hearts. Speak, Lord, for your servants are listening. Amen.
Gracious God, you have placed Christ in power over this world. By your grace, may Christ be in power over our own lives. Help us to pledge our allegiance to Christ, to give your Beloved our heart and mind and soul and strength, so that we may truly serve as your faithful witnesses in this world, in the name of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
open to me a spirit of revelation;
enlighten the eyes of my heart
to know your hope
and the power of your love.
May Christ rise over me and in me,
ruling all, filling all.
God, enlighten the eyes of my heart,
that I may see clearly what is your true and beautiful will;
and even if I may not see your will,
that I may see what is true and beautiful;
and even if I may not see that,
that I may see what is.
Enlighten the eyes of my heart,
that I may be open to your light.
1. Ephesians 1.15-23 – A paraphrase
I pray that God, the Womb of Love,
who in Jesus has embodied among us
the love that creates and orders our lives
and makes them good and beautiful,
may awaken in you deep awareness
of God’s presence and love.
With the eyes of your heart enlightened
may you have the hope God has for you;
may you live in wonder and trust
of the gifts we all receive as God’s Beloved;
may you come more deeply to trust
the immeasurable power of God’s love.
It is divine love that raised Christ from the dead,
raised Christ to rule the universe with love,
to rule over all human dominion
and all realms before and after humans,
in the visible world and the unseen.
All things are subject to the sovereignty of Love.
And we, the church, are the Body of Christ,
the body of that love,
love that fills everything, and contains everything.
2. Psalm 47 – A paraphrase
Don’t you want to dance?
Don’t you feel the urge
to rear back and sing real loud?
Because the Holy One, the Most,
is so magnificent,
and so totally has this world.
The Loving One has given us a love
that overwhelms everything else.
Imagine this: the Infinite One
has chosen us among all Creation,
to love us and stay with us!
The universe is a song of praise
to the Glorious One,
a flash of the radiance
of God’s infinite power.
Go ahead and sing along!
Make harmony with the heavenly song!
Sing your heart out to the Beloved!
Let your whole life be the song!
Love is the heart of everything,
so let love be the glory of your own heart.
—Doesn’t that make you want to sing?
To run around shouting like a kid?—
The Loving One rules everything;
occupies everyone’s secret place.
All of us—the whole planet—
are God’s little ones,
God’s dear sweeties.
What kind of a God could this be,
but the most wonderful?
Ascension Day Prayer
Master of Love, you have been taken from one place
and given in all places.
Released from one body, you now live in ours.
Lord of Love, you reign in my heart.
You are not absent, but within.
The power with which you create worlds,
raise the dead and heal all wounds,
the power of infinite love, lives in me.
Here in my heart, in all our hearts,
where love takes flesh as thoughts take song,
here in my heart your love sings.
Here in my heart is heaven,
and the Lord of Love,
reigning over all the universe.
I am your simple vessel, your humble home,
your sacred Body.
Together, we are your flesh.
We come into the world,
singing and dancing.
We who loved him gawk,
amazed, at first more taken
by his going than his being gone.
But then arises in his place
an awkward, fearful silence
no one wants to break,
assurance, sealed in stark bewilderment,
that what we know is wrong,
that what we love is gone,
that how we might love well we do not know,
that love enough
we cannot summon.
The One we loved has shifted
once again, has hidden once again
somewhere— in someone? how?—
has disappeared into the very air,
or nearer still, where there is no flame yet,
but only hollow wind. How hard it is
when the Beloved slips into
a mystery we might not love.
This would be our defeat, a simple loss,
standing here, looking into air,
had not these strangers come among us,
(heaven always closer than we think),
shaking us from the sky, confusing us,
making us wonder, questioning within,
if we could trust this vanishing,
if he had really gone at all.
He gave love a body,
hands and eyes and the weight of flesh;
and then gave it all away,
the love, and even the flesh.
“This is my body. Take it and wear it,”
Still unaccustomed to the fit,
we look at ourselves in the mirror,
admiring our divine hand-me-downs.
Having joined our flesh,
he rises, to look with love,
while life, conceived in us,
sanctifies its gathering flesh.
Lovers know what it is
to be drawn past your own skin.
Mothers know how a lover can step away
and yet grow within you.
Christ has died, yet is risen;
Christ has gone, yet remains.
We clear the table after the feast.
We look up into the blossoming air.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
1. (Ephesians 1.17-23)
We give our hearts to the God Christ the Beloved has revealed to us, who calls us to hope, who gives us a glorious inheritance among the saints, and who shows immeasurably great power for us who trust.
God has shown that power in raising Christ from the dead and seating Christ beside God in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.
God has put all things under Christ’s feet and has made Christ the head over all things for the church, which is Christ’s body, the fullness of God who fills all in all. Alleluia!
2. Adapted from Teresa of Avila
Christ has no body now but ours,
no hands, no feet on earth but ours.
Ours are the eyes with which he looks with compassion on this world.
Ours are the feet with which he walks about to do good.
Ours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Christ, be with us; Christ be within us.
Christ, hold us all in your loving Spirit. Amen.
[After the introduction, the body of the prayer may be read responsively with the presiding leader(s) and congregation, or by the leader(s) alone.]
God is with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to God.
Let us give thanks to the Holy One, our God.
It is good and beautiful to give God our praise.
We thank you for the gift of Creation,
for your Covenant of love, and your steadfast presence with us.
We thank you for your great love, by which you reign over the world,
far above all rule and authority and power and dominion,
in this age and in the age to come.
By the great power of your love you set the slaves free in Egypt,
and by that love you set us free from all that oppresses.
You gave us the gift of Jesus Christ,
who is our head, who fills everything.
Joyous to share in this meal, we sing your praise.
[Sanctus, spoken or sung:]
Holy, holy, holy One, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
[or alternate version]
Blessed are all who come in your name,
and blessed is Jesus, your Christ.
He fed the hungry, healed the broken, gathered the outcast
and proclaimed the dominion of your grace.
By the powers of injustice he was crucified.
But by the great power of your love you raised him from the dead
and seated him at your right hand and made him the head over all things,
the fullness of the One who fills all in all.
He offered to us the hope to which you have called us,
the riches of your glorious inheritance
and the immeasurable power of your grace.
In this meal he is present with us and all the church,
which is Christ’s Body, embodying your covenant of love.
(The Blessing and Covenant) *
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Therefore, remembering these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves as a living and holy sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of our faith:
[Memorial Acclamation, spoken or sung:]
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Dying, Christ destroyed our death. Rising, Christ restores our life.
Christ will come again in glory.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and cup,
that they may be for us the body and blood of Christ.
Pour out your Spirit on us,
that we may be for the world the Body of Christ.
In this meal may we come to know Christ,
so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened,
we may trust and live and love in his Spirit.
Receiving the power of your Spirit,
may we be your witnesses in this place,
among strangers and even enemies, and to the ends of the earth.
Risen and ascended Christ, live in us,
for the sake of the wholeness of the world,
to your delight, now and always.
[Spoken or sung]
* The Blessing and Covenant
[I usually don’t print the words. I want people to be looking at the bread, not their bulletins.]
On the night in which he gave himself for us
Jesus took bread, blessed it,. broke it, and gave it to his disciples,saying,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
In the same way, after the supper he took the cup,
blessed it with thanks and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink of this, all of you. This is my blood,
poured out for you and for many, in a new Covenant,
which is the forgiveness of sin.”
As long as we break this bread and share this cup
we remember his death and resurrection, until he comes again.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Guide us by your Spirit, make us the living Body of Christ, and send us into the world in love for the sake of the healing of all Creation. Amen.
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) In Christ you have brought heaven to earth, and in his resurrection you have brought us to heaven, and now you give us to the world. Send us into the world to be his witnesses, to embody the Risen One in our living and our loving, in the grace of your Spirit. Amen.
Gracious God, Christ who was crucified you have raised from the dead.
By this meal grant that we may share in his new life.
You have enthroned Christ to reign over all Creation.
By these gifts may he reign in our hearts.
Christ has promised us his Spirit.
Through this communion may his Spirit fill us and guide us.
Christ has called us as his witnesses.
Strengthened by this food may we share your feast of grace with others,
in the name of Christ, and by the power of your Spirit. Amen.
(click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the music page)
Offering song (Tune: HOLY MANNA or Joyful, Joyful)
(Included in Offering Songs, one- or two-verse songs for dedication of offering or communion elements, set to familiar hymn tunes.)
Christ is risen, but no longer in firm flesh that we can hold.
Christ is risen far beyond our thought or power, forms of old.
As a fire can’t keep its light but shines it out; it travels on,
Christ has risen and ascended: love to rule the world has gone.
Christ is risen, and has named us witnesses to all the world.
We are now the risen Body, hands outstretched and grace unfurled.
So we bring our lives to God, that God will bless them, shining bright,
and we pray the Spirit lead us radiating love’s pure light.
Christ Has Ascended (Tune: Morning Has Broken)
Christ has ascended, dead once, yet risen,
seated with God now, sovereign above:
Jesus the healer, ruling Creation,
reigning with mercy, justice and love.
Christ has ascended, hidden in daylight,
always before you, here in plain sight.
Do not look skyward, but to your neighbor,
every face shining with God’s pure light.
Christ has ascended, so that his Spirit
is not his only, but with us all.
Still our companion, he will be with us,
no matter where we follow his call.
Christ has ascended! To his disciples
freely his Spirit Jesus imparts.
We are his Body, witnessing daily,
light of his rising clear in our hearts.
Love Is Enthroned (Tune: Finlandia)
O, risen Christ, who once appeared among us,
you have ascended! Loud we sing your praise.
Though we may see no shadow of your nearness,
you have not gone; your loving presence stays.
You are no longer in one time or place,
but in all things, to radiate your grace.
Christ has ascended, reigning now above.
Love is enthroned at the Creator’s side.
All powers on earth are subject to Christ’s love,
who is our history’s unseen, gentle guide.
Though evil try to make this world its home,
Love is its Lord, and love shall overcome.
Go in the peace of Christ who is our Lord,
and gently heal, amid the fear and strife.
For we who eat and drink the living Word
are now Christ’s Body, and Christ’s earthly life.
We may not see the journey or the end,
but Christ still reigns, our ruler and our friend.
You are the Nerve (Tune: Finlandia)
O God, your Christ is risen in your people.
On earth Christ has no body now but ours.
We are the flesh and blood of your compassion:
moved by your Spirit, with its loving powers.
God be our heart, and we will be your Body,
serving in love in all our days and hours.
We are your feet, that go with joy to others
to share your love, the gospel we confess.
We are your eyes that see what is and may be,
that see each person’s need and loveliness.
We are your hands, that work with strength for justice,
your hands that shelter, heal and feed and bless.
Love, move in me, and guide me by your Spirit,
even when I don’t see or understand.
My life is yours, to be your living Body,t
hat I may love and serve at your command.
This is my life, my purpose and my power:
you are the nerve, and I your willing hand.